BEHIND JULIA CHILD'S omelets, unusual voice and folksy charm lay an incredible influencer of American cuisine.
The author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and host of television’s The French Chef changed the way we cook.
She also encouraged a young Southern chef to become an influencer of her own.
“She always felt that Southern cooking was something that she knew nothing about and that I did and that I should really address that head on—the way that she did French cooking,” says Nathalie Dupree, creator of the 1980’s television series New Southern Cooking. “Julia was just an inspiration to every woman that’s in the culinary field now.”
At the time Child told her this, Dupree was running a cooking school in Atlanta.
It took 30 years, 12 cookbooks and a groundbreaking television career of her own before this child of the South published the book that Julia encouraged her to write.
Dupree called her 2012 tome Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, a bold but appropriate title choice. Her largest and most ambitious cookbook won a James Beard Award last year.
And last month, she and her co-writer and longtime producer Cynthia Graubart spoke at the Savannah Food and Wine Festival about their most recent book, Southern Biscuits.
The best advice from that workshop? Get to know your inner biscuit!
“First of all, you have to decide what kind of a biscuit you want,” Dupree says. “If you grew up with one kind of biscuit and you get a recipe for a completely different kind of biscuit then you don’t know.”
After the workshop, I talked with the culinary duo about things buttery and light – and a bit more serious, too. I marveled at how much food television has changed since Child and Dupree (and Jeff Smith, Justin Wilson and Jacque Pepin, for that matter) lit our screens with deliciousness.
Dupree says one difference was recording “live-to-tape.”
“If I made a mess, I had to solve it on television and everybody saw that it could be solved,” she says. “But now, everything is edited so highly that nobody really gets to make a mess anymore or fix it.”
Dupree and her messes starred in the first female-hosted PBS cooking show—after Child’s—to film 100 episodes. New Southern Cooking also got out of the kitchen. The series took viewers to farms, fields and fisheries.
“That was really a fantastic way to introduce people to where their food came from,” says Graubart, the behind-the-scenes magician. “Now, fast forward, and everybody wants to talk about where the food is coming from.”
“Fast forward” just might be another big difference between then and now.
It’s jarring just how much more fast-paced and zip-bang-flash cooking shows are today.
“I believe that it’s doing the home cook a terrible disservice because they’ll watch one of those shows and go out and spend a lot of money on ingredients and expect to duplicate that recipe in their own kitchen,” Graubart says. “And it’s just not possible.”
Dupree and Graubart always have been on the more educational side of cooking. But they connect with audiences. And they connect with each other like sisters.
That was evident in their cutting up and gentle ribbing of each other during their biscuit class in Savannah.
“We’re just about the only person that we would share a hotel room with except our husbands,” Dupree says. “We understand each other very well.”
The pair’s next book will be about vegetables. Due out next year, it’s an offshoot of Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking. I’m sure when it comes out, the vegetable-loving among us will rejoice that she of grits and gravy met she of coq au vin and decided to put words on paper.